Toil and Trouble

Titirangi Theatre, Lopdell House, Auckland

28/09/2011 - 01/10/2011

Production Details

Unitec graduates James Russell and Rose Damon, paired under the new name Pointy Hat Productions, have finally announced dates for a new season of their play Toil and Trouble, a hilarious whodunit with flavours of Harry Potter, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and a whole host of English comedies all rolled into one. The production is now set to go ahead for the 28th of September to the 1st of October at Titirangi Theatre, with no show on Friday 30th of September.

“We left our booking too late. Titirangi was booked for every Friday for the rest of the year! But we’re hoping every single day to get the call, ‘they’ve cancelled – you’ve got the Friday’. We have our fingers crossed. I guess it’s a lesson we’ll only learn once”, says Rose Damon, the director of the show. 

After an unfortunate incident involving a rather surprised and later angry dragon, Head of the Wizard’s Guild, Orvis Weatherwind faces a grisly murder. He must find out whodunit, and soon. Admittedly, it would help if he knew whydunit or howdunit. But time is running out…Something’s coming.

Set in a fictional Elizabethan England, Toil and Trouble is a witty comedy about the adventures and misadventures of Weatherwind, Proudmouth, Bugelrod and Redgrave, ungrateful townsfolk, the trouble with magic, and all that fuddy duddery.


Playwright James Russell says, “This play springs not only from my love of comedy and fantasy; it also explores deeper subjects like regret, and the power of sacrifice.”

James and Rose, who met at Unitec, have actually collaborated on the show before, but felt it deserved a second outing.

“We put this play on as our graduating theatre work at Unitec and had really positive feedback from audiences,” says Rose. “Plus once James had put in all the hard work of writing it, we didn’t want it to become one of those plays that comes to life once and then sees out the rest of its days as a Word document in the depths of a computer.”

“This new version is more sinister, funny and, well, just better really. Leave everything you ever thought about wizards and magic at the front door”, says James.

Getting the show together has not been without its difficulties. As with most productions, money left the biggest question mark over the preproduction process, and the pair were disappointed to discover that there were no funding options for their show.

Rose says, “Previously we’ve always put things on with the support of some sort of institution to back us, such as Unitec. Going out on our own for the first time is proving a slight shock to the system, because we have nothing but a script and a lot of enthusiasm. I guess we assumed we could apply for a bit of funding here and there, but it turns out we don’t fit the criteria for anything. But we’re making it happen anyway – people are being extremely generous with their time, etcetera, and we’re really grateful for that.” 

Despite the financial difficulty of making the leap from student to emerging-professional theatre-makers, Rose has been really excited by the quality of the cast they have pulled together, and rehearsals are underway. Now they are in the process of pulling together the rest of the creative team and getting word out to audiences. 

“If you enjoy a good story as well as a laugh, come along,” says James, “you’d be crazier than a trouser full of hedgehogs to miss it.”

Toil and Trouble
Titirangi Theatre
Wednesday 28th and Thursday 29th of September,
with two shows on Saturday 1st October. 

Orvis Weatherwind: Brendan Smith
Alistair Proudmouth: Chris Anderson
Hoten Bugelrod: Mark Mockridge
Ergood Redgrave: John Hill
Arthur Sniddle: Laura Penswick
Bolivia Mirkwood: Amanda Walden
Constable Potts: Andrew Hedley

Production Designer: Rose Damon 

Magical script, spectacular lighting and sound

Review by Joanna Page 29th Sep 2011

Last night I visited a Wizards’ Guild in Titirangi where I discovered magic and mayhem – although not in equal parts.

James Russell’s Toil and Trouble opened at Titirangi Theatre in front of a small crowd who weren’t quite sure what to expect. It’s the second time Russell and director Rose Damon have worked on the show – last year it was their graduating theatre work at Unitec. They say this version is better.

The story follows four unlikely fellows (who have nothing but wizardry in common) as they deal with the troubles that arise when a dragon is unleashed on a small Elizabethan town. Murder follows and as they try to solve the mystery the Guild’s existence is threatened. 

Russell’s script is magic. It’s a tribute to the great British comedies – from radio’s The Navy Lark and Goon Show to television’s Blackadder. The dialogue is quick and witty although last night’s audience let it wash over them (despite my random guffaws).

To be fair, sound and ‘accent issues’ made it hard to make out the lines. Arthur Sniddle (Laura Penswick) and Hoten Bugelrod (Mark Mockridge) lost elements of their performance simply because they had to compete with the brilliant sound effects. And they lost. 

Rose Damon’s direction ensures the entire (small) theatre is used to create the township and involve the audience, however at times the action on stage seems more chaotic and difficult to follow than it ought – again partly due to actors struggling to be heard. 

That isn’t an issue for Brendan Smith’s Weatherwind. His Head of the Wizards’ Guild is more worried kindly grandfather than troubled leader and there are definite elements of Dumbledore to his versatile performance. 

Chris Anderson’s womanising Proudmouth shows flashes of Edmund Blackadder’s dry wit and deadpan delivery. Andrew Hedley as Constable Potts is well-played, yet other than providing a link between the wizards and townsfolk, I’m not sure whether the character is necessary.


The two cast stand-outs are John Hill (Redgrave) and Amanda Walden (Bolivia Mirkwood) who both command the stage with presence, poise and authority. In her showdown with the villain Walden’s Mirkwood is by far the more menacing character.

But the true stars of the night are the sound and lighting teams whose special effects really are out of this world – particularly in such a small space. Without them I fear the show would be been rather lacklustre. After so much work from everyone involved that seems a shame.   
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